Oh my…nothing seems to ruffle the feathers or bring out the worst in folks more than political matters, aside from matters of faith and proclamations of absolute truth. I’m able to see many sides of this issue and seldom ever go back and allow myself to settle into so many sad memories of times past when I was just a child and lacked understanding of the complexity of matters as grand as health insurance. To a child who sees and hears her family struggle, little matters to her heart beyond the care for those she loves.
Daddy was diagnosed with RA as a very young man. He had worked literally since he was a child, 11 years old driving a logging truck, farming in the hot fields, doing the roughest sort of manual labor alongside everyone else in his household, from the least in age and size to the greatest. That is just how life was for them then, and the notion of not pulling your own weight never entered the picture.
So, at a fairly young age and with two small children, Daddy’s doctor medically retired him. This was terribly hard on a man who had known nothing but hard work his whole life and the emotional and mental strain was likely more difficult for him to bare than the physical burden of his disease.
Several years into disability, when President Reagan was in office, cuts to programs led to termination of Daddy’s disability benefits. So…Daddy went back to work. He was a truck driver and having to sit for long periods was very hard on his body. He had a terrible flare up of the RA which caused severe swelling and stiffness, difficulty doing even the most simple things like dressing and grooming himself, much less doing any type of work. I well remember waking one morning and hearing tense voices coming from the other room. I initially thought Mama and Daddy were arguing but after listening for a bit of time I recognized she was trying to help him get his pants on over his swollen knee. I looked at his feet later on and saw how distorted his toes were, swollen and drawn upward and I could see the grimace of pain on his face when he walked. My heart ached and I wondered why our president didn’t care about people like us, why he didn’t care that my daddy was hurting so much and literally couldn’t do the job he had been hired to do. From no fault or choice of his own, Daddy was sick and my family needed help…
Now, before I go any further let me say I see President Reagan in a whole new light as an adult and recognize the many wonderful contributions he made for our great nation. I am simply writing from the perspective of a 2nd and 3rd grade child, who I was when I experienced the difficulty I’m now detailing.
You may be having the thought, “why didn’t he get a job doing something that wouldn’t exacerbate his RA?” Good question with a good answer. Daddy’s family was poor in a time when most poor, country folks didn’t have the opportunity to go to College. Daddy was needed to work, to help his family, from the time he was a young child. He talks about at age 4 when his older brother left him to go off to school that he would go back to bed when his brother left, “after I brought in the firewood for Ma.” Can you even begin to imagine our 4 year olds having real, meaningful, strenuous daily chores? That is the world my Daddy grew up in. He quit school in 8th grade to work. He was smart. He is smart, but his world was not one that prepared him for anything other than physical labor.
Picking up where I left off a littler earlier, our family needed help and my little girl mind thought our president didn’t care about people like us. But…we were helped. We were helped by neighbors; people who worked hard, who rose earlier than the sun and returned at its setting. We had a precious neighbor who had a pulp wood business. No one worked harder than that man and his partners. He had three little kids of his own, but he knew the circumstances we faced and he brought money to help our family. He was just one of many who heard and knew. I well remember my daddy’s brokenness and tears as he heard them say, “you would do it for me. We’re neighbors.” Those memories forever framed my thoughts on giving, on friendship, on community. These were not people we spent lots of time with. They were people we spoke to across the road, saw at church, passed in the store, yet they loved us and felt compassion and a responsibility, with tender hearts, to reach out a helping hand to a family in need.
Daddy’s RA went into remission and a friend offered him a job. He worked for that friend for many, many years. The only drawback was that his friend had a small business and didn’t have insurance for his few employees. Daddy applied for job after job after job that offered medical benefits but was never hired due to his medical history. There was no way he could afford medical insurance with his “preexisting condition” so for many years, all my remaining years at home, we were uninsured. That adds a whole new dimension to getting sick…the emotional strain of knowing the cost of your predicament to the family is heaped on top of the unpleasant experience of being sick and for an 8 year old, that’s a lot of anguish. I recognize that I have lingering effects of those years and the emotions that accompanied them. Erick often says, “you don’t know how to act sick when you’re sick, and why won’t you go to the doctor?” Sometimes I don’t answer aloud, but in my mind’s eye I see that concerned little girl I once was considering the cost…
Fast-forward several years…Daddy continued to work and his RA, though still bothersome, was in a remission state and continues to be to this day. In his mid-fifties, he was clearing land on the job with a chain saw when a heart attack struck. He ended up having bypass surgery with 7 bypasses done in that one major surgery. Can you imagine? And are you putting together the man had been working, doing hard physical labor out in the blazing heat with that kind of constriction in his heart? No insurance and 7 bypasses…what in the world were they to do? Would they lose their home? Did they? No. Daddy’s surgery was done at St. Joseph’s Hospital. He laid there in his attempt at recovery wondering how in the world he would ever work things out. Some precious Nuns came in to speak with my parents before discharging Daddy to home and told him he had far too many things to concern himself with to have to worry over a hospital bill. Thanks to people who have hearts like our dear neighbors that helped us when Daddy could scarcely walk, places like St. Joseph’s and those who give for such a time as the time my family faced with Daddy’s surgery, there was no threat of loss of home: “Faith, hope, and charity; the greatest of these is charity.”
America is an incredible place. We are by far the most generous nation in the world. Many of our people give sacrificially out of charitable/loving hearts to hospitals, orphanages, food banks, teaching centers, homeless shelters, schools, habitat for humanity to provide homes for the impoverished, and the list goes on and on and on. We do this, not under compulsion, but out of pure hearts, rich in love, and tender in mercy toward them that are without. That is the kind of giving that God wills and honors.
As an adult, I worked in mental health in a hospital setting for 5 years. Within a couple of months my jaw was dropped and my eyes bugged out from realization of the gross misuse of healthcare. I found the emergency room packed out every week with frequent flyers seeking free care and seeking drugs. Many, many, many of those I saw were able bodied and of able mind with seemingly no conscience. I can’t begin to tell you the times I would pause and think, “this is the reason for increasing medical costs!” I also found myself recognizing, again and again, the engrained mental process prevalent in so many of the families I encountered. Many, not all, but many of the indigent felt completely entitled to the absolute best services available with no sense of responsibility to pay. While I would be working on their cases, they would want to go outside to smoke and talk on their cell phones…they were able to afford phones and cigarettes and meander around outside shooting the bull on the phone but wanted to be sent to a nice, inpatient drug/alcohol rehab center for free treatment…and many times, they got it! Who pays for it…those of us who work and pay taxes.
My heart went out to those I saw who needed care and because of circumstances beyond their control, as was the case with my dad, did not have insurance. I fought to get them the care they needed. Sometimes I won, sometimes I didn’t. See, they didn’t know how to play the system. They were honest. They didn’t trump up their symptoms or make threats to tie my hands and those of the hospital for liability purposes so it was much harder for me to “justify” their treatment.
The one case that spoke most poignantly to the case I’m making here today is the one of a healthy young woman who presented to the ER with vague mental/emotional symptoms requesting pain medication for nonspecific pain. A mental health eval was ordered and I came in to see her. During the eval she mentioned her power was about to be turned off if she didn’t come up with money that day. I questioned her about her educational/job situation. She had graduated from high school and was articulate and attractive. She did not have a job and didn’t seem to want one. In response to my probing, she finally said she was thinking about trying to get on disability. I asked, “what is your disability?” She paused….and finally admitted she didn’t have one!!! She then said, “well, my mom is disabled and gets a check.” After spending quite a bit of time with her I deduced she was wanting a prescription for pain meds that she could fill and likely sell for enough money to pay her power bill. She left with numbers to local colleges from me with recommendation that she seek enrollment in school and employment so she could pay her bills. I will never forget how strange it felt to say the words I spoke to her aloud, “in order to qualify for disability, you have to have a disability. You are capable of learning and working and I encourage you to focus on pursing them both.” My goodness…
Most people who are smart enough to make it in the world without working are smart enough to work to make it if only they would. Dependency on government leads to a place no one really wants to go. I often think of God as my provider and in His Word He tells us that indeed He is the provider. I then consider governments who position themselves to be providers for the people and how they then are able to lord over them. We have a provider who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and reigns in righteousness. Think about America as she was established to be…free for pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness; free to worship. God doesn’t force anyone to worship Him. He calls to us, but He allows us to choose whether or not we follow. He also allows consequences; consequences that reveal His heart and His wisdom. Read Psalm 107 and see how God allowed His people to choose and to experience the harsh consequences of acting outside of wisdom and outside of His good will, and then how upon their recognition of truth AND repentance, in tender mercy He rescued them. He didn’t, however, rescue them before they recognized the error of their ways which only came when they suffered. Then consider new testament scripture that says “if a man (who is able) won’t work, don’t let him eat.” In other words, “let him reap the consequences of his poor choice so that he then may learn and change and be blessed.” God does not will for any to perish, but He will not bless disobedience. It’s HIs way that leads to life. Opposition to His ways leads to destruction.
There are many things to parse out when it comes to healthcare, but it is abundantly clear to me that the road our country is currently taking is a road that will inevitably lead to greater suffering than what we’ve known if we don’t change our course. God works in the hearts of His followers and when, in obedience, we follow Him, blessings abound.
God is all about accountability alongside great and abiding mercy. Psalm 107 illuminates for us the conditions under which men and women often must find themselves before they will turn to God and cry out to Him for His help. You will see that He does not come to their aid until they do so. I pray America will see the error of her ways: gross dishonesty, slothfulness, sense of entitlement, arrogance, indulgence, gluttony on many levels, etc. and will return to the Lord in humility and ask for HIs hand of mercy to restore us before we become a nation without hope.